Always one to wait until the last minute to pack, this trip was no exception. Super Shuttle was due to pick me up between 10:20 – 10:35 pm. At 10:00 the phone rang.
“Super Shuttle. I’m here.”
“But, I thought you were coming at 10:30. I’m not ready.”
“Oh. Dispatch told me to pick you up at 10:15.”
“But it’s only 10:00. Okay. I need a few more minutes. Is that okay? I’ll hurry.”
I looked around my apartment. My bed was strewn with piles: things to pack in my suitcase and things to carry on. I threw items where they belonged, watered the plants, hoped they would survive for 3 weeks, grabbed a wrap, and left. One the ride to the airport I remembered those things I forgot: the manual for my new, yet unused camera (hopefully it’s intuitive), Immodium (hopefully I won’t get sick), a raincoat (hopefully the term “rainy season” is relative).
At the gate, I had the feeling I’ve had so many other times in my life – being the one that doesn’t look like the others. EVA Air, which for some odd reason I had assumed was a Hungarian airline, was actually a Taiwanese airline and I was one of the very few on the plane not Taiwanese. I settled into my aisle seat, ready for the 12+ hour flight to Taipei. I slept, grateful that loud children and tight spaces don’t prevent me from slumbering. I woke up only briefly to eat rice or ramen, drink tea, and observe my rowmates pilfer the cutlery (it was stainless steel) and serving pieces (sturdy plastic, trimmed in a lovely green).
In Taipei I realized I didn’t have a boarding pass for either of my next two flights which perplexed both me (supposedly my bag had been checked through to Siem Reap, why hadn’t I?) and the security guard. I cursed myself for not knowing basic Chinese. The security guard pointed me to one counter, whose agent pointed me to another, who then directed me to another terminal. The feelings of openness and trust I cultivated while living in Korea, borne of not knowing your surroundings, returned. I walked slowly, taking in the many Taiwanese advertisements and numerous luxury items in the sterile duty-free stores, already open at 5 am. I arrived at my gate with over an hour to spare before boarding. I booted my computer, using the time to study my “Talk Now! Khmer!” CDs – playing language games where, when you get an answer incorrect, a Danish looking woman shrieks (in an obviously dubbed voice) “Tee!” (no!). That may be the only word I remember.
Once on-board (now on Vietnamese Air, en route to Ho Chi Minh) I read the in-flight magazine, perplexed by the article on Hip Hop in Vietnam that mentioned “sketching with multi-colored spray paint first appeared in the 1960’s.” Huh? Oh, graffiti.
In Ho Chi Minh I boarded China Air, finally on my way to Siem Reap. I played with my camera, trying to figure out what the different dials and buttons mean. The manual definitely would have been useful. The pilot announced our descent into Siem Reap. I looked out the window at the enlarging rice paddies and greenness, spotted with rare structures with red tile roofs. I felt the excitement of not knowing what to expect.
At the airport I completed the visa application paperwork, stood in line, and presented my papers and passport to the very official looking, in military uniform, agent. He grunted and pointed me out of the line (I was in the red cordoned off area) to another agent at the end of the counter. I walked to him, handed him my papers and he pointed me back to the area from which I had just come. I watched as my passport and application got handed to one agent after the next, ten in total, each one looking at it, then passing it to the next. The last to look at it placed a sticker in it, held it up high and yelled, “Lee-Sa!” Close enough. I paid my twenty dollars, he gave me my passport, and I went to find my bag. Which, true to the agent’s claims, had been checked all the way to Siem Reap.